This latest volume in the Series on Contemporary China published by World Scientific looks at the historical, geopolitical, and legal aspects of the ongoing disputes over the South China Sea and its islands, reefs, and rocks. Edited by Tsu-sung Hsieh, a retired Taiwanese navy captain and professor at the Ming Chuan University School of Law in Taipei, the book is composed of papers presented at the 2017 South China Sea Conference by scholars from Taiwan, China, the Philippines, and the United States.

The Second World War actually began on 7 July 1937 at the Marco Polo Bridge southwest of Beijing, when Imperial Japanese troops clashed with Nationalist Chinese forces. Japan had annexed Manchuria in 1931, but Chinese forces did not fight back then; instead, China’s leaders appealed in vain to the League of Nations. Six years later, after another Japanese-manufactured “incident”, China would fight back.

The principal argument of Terence Roehrig’s new book is that the United States will not and should not use nuclear weapons to defend Japan or South Korea. The US nuclear umbrella, he contends, has been little more than a bluff because the threat to use nuclear weapons, even in response to a nuclear attack, is not credible or necessary.

When George F Kennan was named director of the US State Department’s Policy Planning Staff (PPS) in 1947, he had little knowledge of, or interest in, the Far East. Kennan’s diplomatic experience was limited to Eastern and Central Europe and Russia. His influence in policy-making circles in Washington stemmed from his authorship of the “Long Telegram” from the US Embassy in Moscow in February 1946, and “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” in the journal Foreign Affairs (using the pseudonym “X”) in 1947.

The title of Daniel Kurtz-Phelan’s new book about US General George Marshall’s efforts to bring about peace between the Nationalists and Communists in China after the end of the Second World War should be “The Impossible China Mission”. Marshall’s ill-fated mission was the product of wishful thinking and hubris on the part of policymakers in the Truman administration.

The South China Sea, notes Bernard Cole, a former US Navy captain who also taught maritime strategy at the National War College, covers four million square kilometers, has significant energy resources, and contains trade arteries through which one-third of the world’s commerce transits. Its geographic location astride the Southeast Asian littoral makes it the maritime gateway between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. China’s claim of sovereignty over the entire sea and conflicting claims by other countries in the region make the South China Sea a geopolitical flashpoint and potential scene of military conflict among regional and global powers.